Northern Nevada food bank addresses food insecurity among children with free summer lunch program
When school is out for summer, many kids lose out on the free meals they usually get in their cafeterias. One program in the Truckee Meadows tries to fill the gap.
On a hot afternoon in mid-July, Aaron Ramirez took a break from swimming at Sun Valley Community Park to get lunch from a food truck parked outside the pool. They were serving brown bag lunches with a choice of chocolate or regular milk.
Ramirez was satisfied with the menu, especially the crackers.
“Some of the lunches at school are kinda bad, but this lunch compared was really good,” he said.
Fifty-five percent of students in the Washoe County School District are eligible to get free or reduced-price lunch based on their family’s income, including Ramirez. But that only helps while school is in session.
So, for the last 32 years, the Food Bank of Northern Nevada has been stepping in to fill the gap with its free summer lunch program. From June to August, it serves meals at 41 sites across the Truckee Meadows.
Jocelyn Lantrip, communications director for the food bank, says she wants kids to have nutritious meals all summer long. That way, they’re ready to learn when school starts again in the fall.
“Kids who miss meals or don’t get adequate nutrition often don’t do as well in school. They struggle. They’re sick more often,” she said. “We don’t want any of that to happen because they are out of school in the summertime.”
Nationwide, about 30 million students get free or reduced lunch. During the summer, that number plummets to just 5 million. And according to Feeding America, a national hunger relief network, children who are at risk of going hungry often eat cheaper, unhealthier food, which increases their risk of childhood obesity.
Ramirez is a soon-to-be fifth grader at Bohach Elementary in Sparks, just over the hill from the pool. His mom, Veronica Cervantes, is clear about the benefits of the free lunch program.
“For parents, we don’t have to worry about lunch. And then the kids get a healthy lunch,” she explained.
The meals change day-to-day, but they usually include a protein, fruit, veggie, a snack like crackers, and milk.
“It helps the kids that don’t have food,” Cervantes said.
The food bank tries to make accessing food simple by visiting places where kids and families gather, like parks, schools, and apartment complexes throughout Washoe County.
Jeanine Oppmann is a driver for the Food Bank of Northern Nevada, who covers the Sun Valley route in the summer. On a typical day, she makes multiple stops in the area.
She told KUNR she sometimes sees kids show up without their parents. So, having the food bank come to families – instead of the other way around – strengthens the model.
“A lot of the kids can’t get out of their neighborhoods,” Oppmann said. “Their parents aren’t able to get them to other sites.”
Another way the program is set up to increase access is it does not require families to complete any forms. All a kid between the ages of 2 and 18 has to do is show up. They do have to eat their lunch on-site, though.
Ultimately, Cervantes is grateful for the support the food bank provides for her son and other local children.
“During the summer, there’s a lot of kids that are at home by themselves, [their] parents are working,” she said. “It’s nice that they have it for them.”
For more information on the summer lunch program, help with getting access to food resources, or assistance in applying for food aid, visit the Food Bank of Northern Nevada’s website.